The Power of Reading to Kids
Tad Hills is a bestselling, Penguin Random House author and Worldreader supporter. Penguin Random House is the world’s largest trade book publisher and Worldreader’s largest publishing partner. Their book donation crosses all genres, reading levels and age groups enabling us to cater not just to the children in our schools but the adults in our libraries, and allows us to help Penguin Random House create the next generation of readers and writers at all age.
In 2015, Penguin Random House with Worldreader launched an annual Author Ambassador program that took Tad Hills to Africa to visit schools where his titles have been donated to read, teach and interact with students in a Worldreader e-reader program.
This is Tad’s perspective of that trip and what reading to children means to him.
By Tad Hills
I am not a researcher, scientist, academic or someone who has gathered empirical evidence about the value of reading to children, but I’ve seen first-hand how a book or story can introduce children to a world they’ve never seen, a concept that has never occurred to them, or a life they haven’t lived. I’ve seen books bring people together and as I have visited classrooms in the United States and throughout the world, most recently in Ghana and Kenya with Worldreader, I’m always amazed at how a stories can connect people.
I started writing storybooks 14 years ago when my kids began to fall in love with reading. My wife and I made reading to our children a nightly ritual and those evenings became the highlights of my days. I enjoyed watching my kids scan the pages looking– hunting for clues in the illustrations, listening intently so not a word would be missed. I saw how a storybook could transport my children somewhere else. It intrigued me. Then my daughter Elinor lost her first tooth. That first night I wrote a note from an enthusiastic and loving tooth fairy named Tallulah Petal. The following night I found a letter to Tallulah Petal from Elinor next to her bed.
This started a long epistolary relationship between Tallulah and Elinor that lasted for years (and was not dictated by the infrequent timing of a lost tooth). It was this writing—Elinor’s questions and Tallulah’s answers—that helped me see how much I loved to create stories for children. Tallulah told Elinor about her world: what it was like to be tiny and able to fly (both scary and exciting), what happens to all those teeth (they are used to build castles), what’s her favorite ice cream (rose petals and peach nectar) and how to say “I love you” (Sili teepa). Tallulah Petal reminded me that sometimes you only need an idea and a few words to spark a world of imagination, curiosity and creativity. Honestly, I don’t know who had more fun– me, my daughter or Tallulah.
I never wrote a story about Tallulah Petal, but I have written many other stories and each and every one of them had their own set of challenges. I write and rewrite and often start over. There are some frustrating days when I move a comma and nothing else. Then there are days when I have one breakthrough and then another and some detail that wasn’t making sense miraculously falls into place. I work hard to make my characters and stories accessible to kids. I want kids to understand exactly what my characters are experiencing, so that they recognize themselves in them.
Fortunately, I have a strong memory of my own childhood and I draw on that frequently. I remember clearly how it felt when a teacher asked me a question and I didn’t have the answer, or when I inadvertently hurt a classmate’s feelings. I remember collecting acorns in a dark forest and sitting on my grandmother’s lap. And of course, more recently, I had a front row seat to the childhood of my kids. I would always listen carefully when they had friends visiting or when they were talking to my wife in the next room. I was always gathering details to make my stories feel real.
Over the years I’ve read my books to many children. I’ve read to preschoolers and young adults. I’ve read to children across the United States and to children across sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve read to kids who speak English as a first language and to some who are just learning. One thing all these experiences have in common is the power of a good story and its ability to challenge, shape and grow worldviews.
Whether it’s a little girl imagining castles made of teeth or a father dreaming up a tooth fairy’s favorite ice-cream flavor, it’s these moments of enchantment and creation that bring us to another world– similar or vastly different from our own. Stories are the world’s currency. It’s up to us to create, read and share.
This year’s Worldreader holiday campaign is focused on reaching as many parents and children as possible with the books they need to make bedtime stories possible. Help us make this a reality by donating $50 today so that 10 families can reach their potential through books.
Worldreader believes that readers build a better world. We’re an online learning charity with a low-cost, high-technology approach, combining 21st-century education technology, culturally-relevant digital ebooks, and supportive programming to support the sustainable development goals – particularly improving learning outcomes, workforce readiness, and gender equity in vulnerable communities around the world. Since 2010, Worldreader and its partners have distributed over 46 million digital books to 15 million children and young adults across five regions (East Africa, West Africa, Latin America, MENA, and South Asia). Worldreader is always looking for partners to reach millions more. With COVID-19 forcing millions of children out of school, Worldreader is providing distance learning solutions to families around the world. To donate to our reading charity, please go to worldreader.org/donate